No one’s perfect

No one’s perfect

The Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that all who follow Him are known as Easter people.  What do I mean by this? Well, followers of Jesus believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and exalted him to be Lord of Lords and King of Kings.  Wrapped up in this is God’s promise to us that all the followers of Jesus will be gathered up and so be granted a share in God’s amazing eternal kingdom.

The wonderful, heart-warming themes of resurrection, joy, eternal peace and a love stronger than death are woven through our Christian belief.   But, there are other themes.  In 2 Corinthians 4 the Apostle Paul writes along these lines:

God has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of his glory in the face of Christ.

He goes on to say:

But we have this treasure in jars of clay …

You see, in this life we face vulnerability; we too can be cracked or broken like a cracked vase. This brokenness can leave us with jagged edges and so even greater vulnerability. Such brokenness can leave us with sorrow, guilt, regret and grief.  This is all quite natural when we are dealing with, and living through bereavement.

So it is right that we ask God to bring pardon and peace to the broken in heart; (Church Liturgy for confession on special occasions), to make us whole again when we feel torn and divided by our grief.

As we commemorate those who have departed this life we can have hope that they are now at rest.  Meditate on these words from Revelation:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. (Rev 21:4).

And with these words we hear God’s loving responses in the words of Jesus when He was teaching His disciples about what was to happen next on the night He was arrested and crucified:

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you ….  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid.  (John 14:27).

It’s so easy to forget these words of Jesus.  When we do we allow things to trouble our hearts, especially when we remember someone we love and still miss.

Perhaps we remember things we did or said that we now deeply regret but can’t say sorry.  There might be things left unsaid because we didn’t know we would have so little time to say them.  We might be hanging on to feelings of anger or bitterness towards one who wronged us or hurt us badly.

Only we know what’s in our hearts – or rather only we and God.  And God, knows what we need better than we know ourselves.

The truth is, in loving us beyond our understanding, God holds out his hands so that we can place into them the person we are remembering, and our relationship with that person.

Placing someone into God’s hands may not be easy.  We might only be able to do it gradually over a period of time or we might only be able to say, “I want to forgive but can’t yet”.

You see, our relationship with someone doesn’t end when they die.  It would be denying we have emotions, any conscience, if this were so.  Therefore, we continue to carry such relationships with us after they have died, but with and through God’s grace and mercy these relationships can change, grow and heal.

If, after someone we love dies we have no regrets at all about our relationship with them, except that it has been cut short, we can count ourselves greatly blessed.  But I suspect that for most of us we wish this to be so!  Nevertheless, in our grieving for their loss we can still feel a deep gratitude that our lives have been enriched because we were part of theirs.

Despite the death of a loved one let’s remember that we cannot be separated from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.  And that this cracked vase can still hold flowers of great beauty.

Amen.

Based on a sermon for All Souls Day, Sunday 4th November 2018

Readings: Philippians 1:1-11 & John 5:24-29

Wisdom

Wisdom

Apparently there are six leadership capabilities, which collectively form the acronym W.I.S.D.O.M.

W – Work and acting with authenticity and appropriateness

I – Insightful and flexible fortitude

S – Shift your perspective towards a noble purpose

D – Decision logic with discernment and intuition

O – Openness to lead from any position

M – Motivated by enlightened self-interest

I think we would all agree that wise leaders are a very rare breed.

We’ve been following the story of Joshua leading the Israelites into the promised land.  When Joshua died, there was a vacuum of power.  The people, losing their spiritual commitment and motivation, abandoned God and worshipped idols.  This period of rapid decline was due to sin, individual and corporate, with everyone doing “as he saw fit”, resulting in the Israelites becoming captives.  Out of their desperation they begged God to rescue them.  In faithfulness to His promises and out of His loving-kindness, God raised up a judge to deliver His people and, for a time there was peace. Then complacency and disobedience would set in, and the cycle began again.  Over a period of 325 years there were six successive periods of oppression and deliverance, and there were 12 men and women who delivered Israel from her oppressors.

These judges were not perfect; in fact, they included

  • an assassin,
  • a sexually promiscuous man,
  • and a person who broke all the laws of hospitality.

However, they were submissive to God, and God used them as wise leaders.

Deborah fitted the description of wise leader perfectly. She had the right skill set, and she had a remarkable relationship with God.  The insight and confidence God gave this woman placed her in a unique position in the Old Testament. Her story shows that God can accomplish great things through people who are willing to be led by Him.

The Israelites once again faced a powerful army, but this army had chariots.  Chariots were the tanks of the ancient world.  Made of iron or wood, they were pulled by one or two horses and were the most feared and powerful weapons of the day.  To be faced with 900 chariots would have put great fear into Israel.  There was no way they could match this. Therefore, King Jabin, and Sisera, the Commander of his army, had no trouble oppressing the people, which they did for 20 years – until a faithful woman named Deborah called upon God.

Was Barak, Israel’s army commander, cowardly or just in need of support when he told Deborah she had to go with him into battle?  This was despite Deborah telling Barak that God would be with him all the way.  That appeared not to be enough for Barak.

His request shows that at heart he trusted human strength more than God’s promises. He lacked the faith to step out in God’s command.  He was a reflection of Israel’s lack of faith in God.

On the other hand, Deborah’s life challenges us in several ways.

  • She reminds us of the need to be available both to God and to others.
  • She encourages us to spend our efforts on what we can do rather than on worrying about what we can’t do.
  • She challenges us to be wise leaders.
  • She demonstrates what a person can accomplish when they allow God to be in control.
  • She was dependent on God and obedient to his commands.

As Israel was in a repeated downward spiral into sin, they refused to learn from history, living only for the moment, which took them further into sin.

Judges is also a book about sin and its consequences. Like a minor cut or abrasion that becomes infected when left untreated, sin grows and soon poisons the whole body.  Our sins harm both ourselves and others, but all sin is ultimately against God because it disregards his commands and his authority over us.

Recognising the seriousness of sin is the first step towards removing it from our lives, for sin leads us into living in a mess; struggles and dilemmas easily get out of control.  When we’ve messed up God should be the first person we turn to.  Instead we try to control our own lives without God’s help.  All this does is to lead us into further struggle and confusion.  In contrast, when we stay connected to the Lord by consecrating ourselves daily, we are less likely to create painful circumstances.

This is a lesson the Israelites never fully learned.  When struggles come our way, God wants us to come to him first, seeking his strength and guidance, thus seeking His Kingdom.  Jesus encourages us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”.  Too often we push God to the back of the queue.  In other words, we are to turn to God first for help.  Then we are to fill our thoughts with His desires, to take His character as our pattern in life, thus serving and obeying Him in absolutely everything we do.

That’s when we grow in God’s love and blessings!

Judges 4:4-10 & 13-15; Matthew 6:25-34

Crossing the river

Crossing the river

It’s 1978 and your life is before you.  You’re full of hope, full of plans… and 40 years later you find you’re still doing the same old thing.  You feel trapped, as if you have just been wandering aimlessly through life.

Because of their unbelief, the children of Israel were sentenced to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. That’s a long time!  Now they are poised to enter into the promised land. They are ready to claim their inheritance.  However, before they can enter, they must first get past one final, major obstacle; the Jordan River.  Normally, this would not have presented much of a problem, since where they were the Jordan was only 100 feet wide.

However, God often does things in such a way that no one can boast of having done them on their own.  You see, He brought them to the Jordan River at the time of harvest, (3:15), when it swells to an impassable width of over 1 mile.  That’s some distance!  There was no way they could cross this river on their own.  They needed supernatural help.

We each have Jordans that we face from time to time.  When we look at the obstacles, that stand between us and spiritual victory, we may feel that we will never be able to enter our promised land and enjoy the abundant life that Jesus promised to us, His followers.  However, we have a God who specialises in overcoming what appears to be impossible challenges.

Crossing the Jordan involved three challenges to the Israelites.  They were challenged to:

  • Watch God
  • Follow God, and
  • Honour God
The challenge to watch God

When the time came for the people to cross the Jordan, God gave instructions as to what they are to do.  The Israelites were to watch for the Ark; it was to go in front.  Remember, the Ark symbolised the presence and power of God.  It was the dwelling place of God; with it the Israelites knew that God was in their midst.  So when God moved, they were to move.  When God stopped, they were to do the same.

This is encouraging us to be sensitive to the movement of the Lord in and around us.  You see, God wants us to see Him moving around us, simply because He loves us and wants us to see that He is a God that is alive!

Jesus said this in John 5:19-20,

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does.”

Like Jesus we are to watch God at work.  When we do, He will teach us how to live day by day.

In watching, the Israelites were to follow God.

So these instructions were designed to help them follow the Lord better; He was going to lead the way.  Therefore, when the Ark of the Covenant moved, they were to “move out from their positions and follow it”.  When God moved they were to pursue Him!

The challenge to follow God

As believers there comes a time when we must “move out from our positions” and pursue God.  This often requires us to leave our comfort zone.  Israel was about to do that as they followed the Ark through a fast-flowing river that was over 1 mile wide!  That couldn’t have been comfortable, but it was necessary and right.

Following God is not always the easiest thing you will ever do, but it will be the best thing you ever do, if we are to know His leading in our lives.  In order for us to enter the promised land God has shown us, personally and corporately, we have to learn to follow Him obediently.  We do this through believing that Jesus is, “the way and the truth and the life.” and that, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The challenge to honour God

Notice that the Israelites are told to stay at least 1000 yards behind the Ark.  We must never be guilty of treating God like one of our buddies. There must always be a holy reverence and a fear of the Lord in our hearts.  God help us if we allow a spirit of familiarity to cheapen our walk with God for, we must remember who we are worshipping!

Joshua told the people “consecrate yourselves.” (v 5).  This was a command.  They were to be as clean and holy as possible.  This involved examining themselves and getting ready for the Lord to do something great for them.

If you and I are ever going to get past the Jordans in our lives, we are going to have to learn that one of the first things we must do is examine our lives to make sure they are as clean as possible.  For the Lord is ready to help us realise that there are many things in our lives that prevent us from walking in an increased sense of Christ’s victory.

As we examine ourselves may we remember that there is forgiveness in confessing our sins to the Lord.  Remember 1 John 1:9-10…

“If we confess our sins, God (he) is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make God (him) out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

Trust and commitment

If we’re going to respond to any command, we need to demonstrate a level of commitment (v 9-13).  You see getting across the Jordan did not rest on their shoulders, but on the Lord’s.  It was His plan to get them over and so whatever problems were in front of them were His.  God made a promise; He will bring them through in a powerful fashion. All that was required of Israel was that they trust God.

For us things are no different.  Today God is still calling us to trust Him.  Scripture is full of God’s kept promises; we can certainly trust Him.  But sometimes we seem unable to get past the obstacles in our lives.  Often this is due to a lack of faith.

Through this story of Joshua God is saying that He is the Lord and that He is greater than any problem we have ever, or will ever face in life. His desire is that we simply learn to take Him at His Word and trust Him.  We need to remember that what the Lord has promised to do, He will do, (Rom, 4:21).

As we take this message to heart we will see more miracles in our lives.  So, Joshua could have seen the size of the river and decided to wait until the flooding had abated.  But God was calling him to act now.  Don’t be like the 10 spies who came back with Joshua 40 or so years earlier and said the problem was too big to face.

So when we face a difficult situation don’t forget about God.  Where we see only problems, God sees solutions, and says, “Follow me, I have a plan!”  As we follow we begin to exercise our faith in the truth that Jesus is “the way and the truth and the life.”  That “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

The truth is God expects us to take steps to follow Him.  He won’t give things to us on a plate.  If we try to solve our own problems, we are not walking in faith.  It’s not until we let God take the reins that we will see it taken care of for His glory. So it never is about what we can do, it is always about what the Lord is able to do, (Eph. 3:20).

In one way or another I’m sure many of us are facing troubled waters in our lives.  No matter how minor a trouble may seem, it is a major trouble if it stops us from experiencing His peace and presence.  The source of the trouble may be sin, it may be some person, it may be some trial.  Whatever it is, and however big it is, God is greater.  Come and let Him, through Jesus Christ, take care of it for you.

Are you ready for action?

Are you ready for action?

Exodus 3: 1-14

There are many strange sights in our world and universe.  We’re greeted with a strange sight in Exodus chapter 3 – a burning bush that is not being consumed by the flames; but it got Moses’ attention.  He’d taken his father-in-law Jethro’s flock of sheep on a bit of a trek “to the far side of the desert” and to the Mountain of God, Horeb.

As Moses approached and stood before the burning bush, God called out from within the bush – “Moses! Moses!” Now Moses must have been really intrigued.  Not only was he looking at a bush that was “not burning up”, but the bush also spoke.

I think, Moses response was brave, “Here I am” he said.

Unbeknown to Moses he was standing on Holy Ground for God said, “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

This voice revealed clearly who was speaking from this bush; “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

How did Moses respond to this?  He hid his face.  Do you see the connection here with how the Israelites reacted when Moses met with God when they were in the wilderness – his face glowed and they asked him to cover it up because it was too much for them to look at.

By taking off his shoes and covering his face Moses was demonstrating reverence, which conveys his unworthiness to be before God.  God loves us, always has done, and always will, but he is also our Sovereign Lord, and because of this we are not to approach him frivolously.  If we do this, we are showing a lack of respect and sincerity.

So when you seek God’s face, when you seek His presence, whether it be in your own personal quiet time, or in an act of corporate worship, what is your attitude to approaching Him?  Do you come with a casual attitude, or do you come as someone invited as a guest before a king?  This account of God speaking to Moses encourages us to think about how we approach God.  Do you need to adjust your attitude so it is suitable for approaching the One True Holy God?

Moses knew how his people were being treated.  After all, he had run away because he had murdered an Egyptian who was treating a fellow Hebrew badly.  God also knew that his people were being treated badly.  Having heard their cries, now was the time to act, and He intended to act through Moses.

How willing are you to hear God, and listen to Him when he calls you?

Your willingness to hear and listen to God will determine how much He will act through your life.  You see, God is ready to take action, are you ready to for God’s action?

If we are to go with God’s action, we have to be prepared to go for God, for His plans involve us in action.  We are not to be mere observers or by-standers in God’s action.  No, He wants us in the thick of the action.

But like so many of us, Moses didn’t really want to act for God.  He says “Who am I, that I should go…”

I think pride is at work here – Moses is not believing God when He says “Go, I will be with you.”  He was reluctant to take up the call God was placing upon him.  Isn’t that the same for us all?  I know that is my experience – too often I am reluctant to take up God’s call, let alone follow it.

Through fear and pride I hesitate, I hold back.  Sometimes when I do this I miss a God-given opportunity to act for Him.  How does God respond to this?  Well, He either gets someone else to do what He’s called me to do, or He comes at me in a different way, patiently waiting for me to recognise His call and so respond appropriately.

Like Moses I come up with excuses as to why I can’t do what He is calling me to do.  Yet God’s response may seem a little strange – “I am WHO I am”!

What does this mean?  Well, it means, “I am in control, I am everything you need.”  It is true, I am not capable on my own, BUT God is capable of all things, especially the things He is asking me to do.

Too often we are like Moses, we question what God is saying to us.  So, how well do we recognise God as the “I am WHO I am”?  You see, in our “I am not” we can find that the great “I am WHO I am”, for God will be there with us.  He is dependable, faithful.  He has an unchanging nature and an eternal power, who desires the full trust of His people, we are His people today!

Remember that in verse 12 of the passage, God tells Moses “I will be with you.”  We can trust Father, who lives in Heaven, for in Him we find stability and security, for as we read in Hebrews 13:8, God is the same “yesterday and today and for ever”.   Because of this we are free to follow Him and enjoy Him rather than spend time trying to figure Him out.

May we find the blessings God has for us in His “I am WHO I am.”

[Image of burning bush Copyright Mike Pennington and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence]

Where to get wisdom

Where to get wisdom

I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart because I like to find out how things work.  Thankfully I’m pretty good at putting things back together and getting them to work as they should.

As a seven/eight-year-old I spent hours taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together.  I remember the first time I undid the wheel spindle and all those little steel balls fell out.  I had no idea what they were, but thought they must be important, so put back as many as I could find. The wheel was a bit lumpy after that!

At that point I was gaining in knowledge about how my bicycle worked, but I did not have the wisdom to actually understand why having all the ball bearings was so important and why they needed to be lubricated with grease.  Knowledge enables us to take things apart, and to put things back together again in working order, but wisdom is the understanding of why we need to put things together in a particular order, for it to work as designed.

The same can be said about God’s truth. We need more than just knowledge about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  To really understand the person of God we need to be able to relate Him to our daily lives.  As we do this we then begin to understand and start to walk in the truth of who God is.  We also begin to understand where Jesus fits into this truth, and the role the Holy Spirit plays in our continuous growth in this truth.  This is Wisdom!

Wisdom was an important thing to Jewish people. They realised that it was not enough to have knowledge.  They understood that you had to have wisdom to be able to use that knowledge correctly.  “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom” (Proverbs 4:7)

In the New Testament, James (James 3:13-18) is writing about those who say many good things about God, but somehow miss the heart of God’s message.  You see the heart of God’s message contains the wisdom we need in order to understand life and so discover the truth contained therein.  Wisdom comes when we are able to relate God’s truth to everyday life, and in our reading from James’ letter he is contrasting true wisdom and false wisdom.

In verses 15 and 17 James is stating that true wisdom comes from above, and that false wisdom comes from below.  In other words, there is a “heavenly wisdom” that comes from God, and there is a “man-made wisdom” that does not come from God.  A conclusion we can draw from this is that whatever does not come from God is destined to fail, no matter how successful it may seem at the time.

The Bible contains many examples of the folly of humanities wisdom.

  • The building of the Tower of Babel seemed like a wise enterprise, but it ended in failure and confusion (Gen. 11:1-9).
  • King Saul thought it was wise to put his own armour on young David for the lad’s battle with Goliath, but God’s plan was otherwise (1 Sam. 17:38ff).
  • The disciples thought it was wise to dismiss the great crowd and let them find their own food; but Jesus took a few loaves and fishes and fed the multitude.
  • The Roman “experts” in Acts 27 thought it was wise to leave port and set sail for Rome, even though Paul disagreed; and the storm that followed proved that Paul’s wisdom was better than their expert counsel.

So, what is the origin of man’s wisdom?  James tells us, “Such wisdom does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil.” (James 3:15).

Therefore, believers have three enemies; the world, the flesh and the devil (Eph. 2:1-3).

Wisdom of the world

Certainly, there is a great deal of knowledge in this world, and we all benefit from it; but there is not much wisdom. We are able to unlock the secrets of the universe, but we don’t always know what to do with them.

It is clear that Paul, in the first two chapters of 1 Corinthians, is not enamoured with the wisdom of this world.  He tells us that man’s wisdom is foolishness to God (1 Cor. 1:20), and God’s wisdom is foolishness to man (1 Cor. 2:14). He tells us that man’s wisdom comes from reason, while God’s wisdom comes from revelation. Man’s worldly wisdom will come to nothing (1 Cor. 1:19), while God’s wisdom will endure forever.

Paul is saying that because the world has turned from God, it has lost its wisdom, and every increase in man’s knowledge only magnifies the problems.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

“There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom. 3:18).

Wisdom of the flesh

“Unspiritual” wisdom it is of the flesh, or of the human nature.  It results when we follow our own desires and not God’s desires and ways.

“Wisdom” of the devil

Beginning with Genesis 3, where Satan successfully deceived Eve, and continuing through the entire Bible, there is a “wisdom of Satan” at work, fighting against the wisdom of God.  Satan convinced Eve that she would be like God.  He told her that the tree would make her wise. Ever since that event, people have continued to believe Satan’s lies and have tried to become their own gods (Rom. 1:18-25).   Satan is cunning; he is the old serpent! He has wisdom that will confound and confuse you if you do not know the wisdom of God.

True wisdom

In contrast to the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, and devilish, James describes a “wisdom that is from above” (James 3:17).  The Christian is to look up to heaven for all their needs.  Our citizenship is in heaven, just as our Father is in heaven (Phil. 3:20, Matt. 6:9).  Our treasures are in heaven, not on earth (Matt. 6:19ff).  We were born again from above when we trusted Jesus Christ (John 3:1-7).

So, as believers we are to set our affection and attention on things above, not on earthly things, because our home and our hope is in heaven (John 14:1-6, Col. 3:1-4).  The first step toward true wisdom is the receiving of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord of in each of our lives.

So how can we be the friends of God and the enemies of the world, the flesh, and the devil?

James gives us some help in v7 and 8 of chapter 4.  First he encourages us to Submit to God (v. 7).  Submit is a military term that means “get into your proper rank.”  If you keep any area of your life back from God, there will always be battles, so the way to resist the devil is to submit to God.  Submission is an act of the will; it is saying, “Not my will but yours be done.”

Secondly we are to Draw near to God (v. 8).  How do we do this? By confessing our sins and asking for His cleansing. (“Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double-minded.” James 4:8b) God graciously draws near to us when we deal with the sin in our life that keeps Him at a distance, for He detests sin.

Millions of people all over the world begin the Christian journey. But as soon as discipleship gets arduous or prayers are not answered the way they wish for them to be, people start to drop out.  Too few of us have enthusiasm for the patient acquisition of Christian virtue.  You see the Christian journey, which starts like a sprint, ends up as a marathon.

Sadly for some this marathon ends up lonely and silent.  We can start beautifully but too often by the middle of the race we’re broken because we transfer from heavenly wisdom to earthly wisdom.  We often die with our greatest wisdom, that which comes from above, still within us, unused, unspent, unrecognised.

Too often the world looks at people and says, “wise in the ways of the world,” or “a shrewd business person.”  James wants us to avoid such endings.  He wants us to be declared the winner in the Battle of the Wisdoms, by the only judge whose decision ultimately matters, our heavenly Father, God; our Saviour Jesus; and the Holy Spirit, our Counsellor and helper.

 

The biggest slice of pie

The biggest slice of pie

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 (NIV).

A brother and sister returned from school hungry.  Remembering the pie they’d had earlier in the week Frank said he’d cut it in half whilst his sister, Jessica, could pour them some milk to drink.  When Frank put it in on the table Jessica said, “Look what you have done!  You’ve given me the small slice and kept the big slice for yourself.” “Well, how would you have done it?” Frank asked.  “If I were serving the pie,” said Jessica, “I would have given you the large slice and kept the smaller slice for myself.” “Well, what are you complaining about? That’s exactly what I’ve done!”

We might laugh at that story, but selfishness and greed is a very serious subject.

Every day we see people who not only want the biggest slice of the pie for themselves, they want it all.  So Jesus, knowing what we’re like, told a story about a man who was like that.  This man was very rich.  He had a large, fertile farm which produced very good crops.  Notice what Jesus said: “the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.”  What that says to me is that the man didn’t put in any extra hard work in order to get a good crop.  It was a blessing from God.  Perhaps that’s why the man said: “What should I do?  I have had such a large harvest that I don’t have room in my barns to store all of it.”

So I ask you… “What should he do”?  He should have shared some of what he had with those who didn’t have very much.

Is that what the man did? No, instead he said, “I know what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of everything. Enjoy it. Eat, drink, and be merry.'”  God said to the rich man, “You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything?”

Because of God’s goodness towards us He has given most of us more than we need; we are indeed rich in Him.  But do we really believe that?  The question is, what will we do with what God has given to us?  Will we share it with those who don’t have as much, or will we greedily keep it for ourselves?  Is our faith and relationship with Jesus stored away, for us to use just when we want to?  Our faith and relationship with Jesus is not just to be stored away for a rainy day.

God is wanting us to go out and use our faith by living it.  If it is going to grow we are going to have to share it by living it.  How do we live our faith?  By involving God in every area of our life. To do this we need to get to know God. And we do this through prayer, reading our Bibles, and hanging out with other believers.

In getting to know God He wants us to ask Him to protect us from evil and sin, and to ask Him to give us the wisdom and courage to make good choices.  As we do these things we will find we are sharing our faith, thus, it shapes our lives, it takes us on a journey with Jesus. We won’t use up all our faith, for Godly faith is limitless, and as we live by faith we will learn from it.

So how ready are you to be a better disciple of Jesus by walking His path of eternal life?  Are you ready to let Him disciple you?  Are you ready to be taught by Him and…when necessary, disciplined by Him? By saying “yes” to this you are showing a willingness to grow in faith and so produce a rich crop for God to harvest in the future for His glory. The wonderful blessing is that as we live our faith we discover the beautiful generosity of God.

So remember the warning that Jesus gave to the listeners of his story… Don’t store things away. If you do you’re really only thinking of yourself.  Recognise that what you’ve got is from God, be thankful and generous with all that you have, especially your faith, and share it with others.  When we are thankful & generous with what God has given us, especially our faith, He will bless us with a full prosperous life.

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief

Often, we are quick to make judgements about others based on outward appearances.  However, in the kingdom of God, outward appearance doesn’t matter.  This is well explained in scripture by James, (James 2:1-17):

1My brothers, as believers in our glorious lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favouritism. 2suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3if you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “you stand there” or “sit on the floor by my feet,” 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

5listen, my dear brothers: has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6but you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

8if you really keep the royal law found in scripture, “love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right. 9but if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10for whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11for he who said, “do not commit adultery,” also said, “do not murder.” if you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

14what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16if one of you says to him, “go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17in the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We might look upon people according to their position or wealth, but God looks at the individual, not their job or their outward appearance.  James is confronting us about being too full of ourselves.

Later we will gather round the Lord’s table because Jesus invites us to his table. At his table there this is no distinction. The good news is that Christ Jesus invites us to an “all you can eat buffet” of God’s grace, mercy, forgiveness, redemption, justification, hope, wholeness, healing and, like cream or custard on top of your favourite pudding, love!

The only thing that’s required of us is to come empty, so that we can leave filled.

Come empty

How do we come empty?

… By laying at the foot of the cross all the trash, all the sin, and letting the blood of Christ flow over them, cleansing them from our life.  If we’re honest with ourselves the trash in our lives will include our selfishness (which really is pride), our prejudices, our hate, our anger at our brother, boss, neighbour, spouse or children, our assumptions that we are always right, our judgementalism.  The list goes on and on.

If we’re full of these when we come into God’s presence then we’re not going to receive all that he has for us, we just won’t have room.  We have to come empty.  For when we do, we come needy, hungry and so ready to receive what he has for us.  This will be different for each of us. Therefore, we have to come seeking, if not, we won’t be satisfied.

If we’re full there is no room for God’s grace, love and forgiveness. So we have to empty our heart, soul and spirit of all those things that keep us from feasting at God’s “all you can eat buffet of grace, forgiveness and love”.

Leave filled

The good news is that when we come empty we will leave filled.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the knowledge and assurance of our forgiveness.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the grace of God born of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

When we come empty, we leave filled with hope for ourselves and for the future.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the love which mirrors God’s unconditional love for us.

When we come empty, we leave filled with the holy spirit, Christ’s very presence in our daily lives, reminding us that we belong to him.

Conclusion

There’s a mum whose family treated her to a big birthday party. When the time came for her to receive her gifts, she was instructed to sit in her favourite chair. One by one, the father and the two older children came in from the kitchen bearing their gifts on trays, and presenting them to mum as if she were a queen.  The smallest girl, who was really too little to have had much input on the selection of gifts, had been left out of all these joyous plans. But watching the party, she rose to the occasion!  Just when the others thought the party was over, she appeared from the kitchen bearing an empty tray. Approaching her mother, she placed the tray on the floor, stepped upon it herself, and with a childish wiggle of joy said, “Mummy, I give you me!” (1)

When we come empty, we bring only ourselves, which is the best and greatest gift we can ever give to God. It’s the only gift God ever asks from us, and it’s the gift God gave to us through Jesus.  When we come empty, with just the gift of ourselves, God meets us and feeds us and fills us to overflowing with his glorious life.

It doesn’t make any difference whether we’re a rich man, poor man, beggar man, or thief, when we come empty, we leave filled.  So, empty yourself for Christ’s “all you can eat buffet of grace, love and forgiveness” and leave filled.

Bibliography

  1. Parables, etc. Saratoga press, PO Box 8, Platteville, co, 80651; 970-785-2990, March 1987

Spiritual Gifts

Spiritual Gifts

“Every good and perfect gift is from above.” (James 1:17).

God, our Father, pours out on us, His children, lavish spiritual and supernatural gifts.

Spiritual gifts are not talents or abilities or something we like to do.  What are they, and what is their purpose?

It is so that through us, His children, Christ’s Church will be edified and glory brought to God, because God is a supernatural God.  All spiritual gifts have been provided to equip us to glorify God.  This is explained by Paul, who wrote that the gifts of the spirit are given:

“to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12-13)

Let’s break this down a bit further:

Gifts are given to manifest God’s presence in the body of Christ on earth

Jesus is our perfect example. He exemplified all the spiritual gifts through His words and the actions He carried out. Since Jesus is now at the right hand of God the Father, the Holy Spirit is the primary manifestation of the presence of God on the earth. Thus our heavenly Father distributes the gifts of the Spirit among the members of His Body in various ways, so that believers and none believers may see and know the presence of God.

Gifts are given to remind us of our dependence upon one another

Rather than giving each believer all of the gifts, God gives each of His children specific gifts. He did this so that no one would, in the words of Paul in Romans 12 think of themselves…

“more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.”

Our walk of faith is a journey, a journey not completed until we get to heaven. On this journey God knows that we need to mature in all areas of our faith.  So it is with spiritual gifts: they need to mature in us.  When this happens our appreciation for all the members of the Body is magnified.

For example, if you have the gift of mercy, God has given you a heightened sensitivity to the hurts of others (so that HE might express HIS compassion to them through you). Until you understand that everyone else is NOT supposed to be as sensitive to others’ hurts (to the degree that you discern them and want to respond to them), you will probably be tempted to condemn others as callous and heartless.

This is an immature attitude because our personal human nature, which naturally operates pridefully,

assumes that “my perspective” is always right — and usually the “only” perspective.

If you think that way, you are deceiving yourself. Yes, your perspective is valid and essential, but it is not the only perspective. Others are not being callous; they simply do not “see” as you see.

In fact, others will be sensitive to needs to which you are totally oblivious, such as:

  • the suffering person’s financial needs or
  • the need to be shown the truth about the situation that is causing the suffering or
  • the need to mow the sufferer’s overgrown lawn, which is frustrating his wife and his neighbours

So as different members of the Body of Christ discern each of these areas of need, all of the suffering person’s needs can be addressed and God will be glorified.

Therefore, we need each other desperately.

Thankfully, God has not given “the whole picture” to any individual, but through His grace and mercy, He has given each of us a “window” through which we are to perceive one another’s needs by using our spiritual gifts. Therefore, all the needs cannot be met unless the Body of Christ is thriving and practicing its gifts in love.

Gifts are given to build unity in the church

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul exhorts believers to endeavour, to “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”. (Ephesians 4:3).  He also explains that God gave the ministry gifts (i.e. apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers):

“… to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.  (Ephesians 4:12–13).

The truth is our differing gifts, empowered to us by the same Spirit, draw us together, because God wants us to depend on each other.

That’s why,  “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”” (1 Cor. 12:21).

Therefore, when the Holy Spirit is working strongly in a church to manifest God’s presence, one evidence will be a beautiful harmony in the church community and an overflowing love for one another.

Gifts are given to bring glory to God

God has given gifts to the Body of Christ,

  • to manifest His presence among us,
  • to remind us of our dependence upon one another
  • and thus to build unity in the Church.

As this happens Christ’s Church individually and corporately is edified, so that we are better equipped to reach the lost. So through the gifts of the Holy Spirit as believers we are humbled, fulfilled, encouraged, and made useful in the hands of our Master, to whom all glory is due.

How do I identify my spiritual gifts?

Well there is no magic formula or definitive test that can tell us exactly what our spiritual gifts are.

The Holy Spirit distributes the gifts as He determines (1 Corinthians 12:7-11).

A common problem for Christians is the temptation to get so caught up in “our spiritual gift” that we only seek to serve God in the area in which we feel we have been gifted.  That is not how God’s spiritual gifts work.  God calls us to obediently serve Him in all things.  As we learn to do this on our walk of faith He will equip us with whatever gift or gifts we need to accomplish the task He has called us to.

Identifying our spiritual giftedness can be accomplished in various ways.

We can use resources like Spiritual gift tests or inventories. They are helpful as they can help us understand where our gifting might be, but should not to be fully relied upon.

Confirmation from others, as others who see us serving the Lord can often identify a spiritual gift in us that we might take for granted.  It’s too easy for us to assume that all Christians do such and such,

so we don’t readily recognise it as a gift from the Holy Spirit.

However, PRAYER is most important in discerning your spiritual gifts. The truth is the one person who knows exactly how we are spiritually gifted is the gift-giver Himself – the Holy Spirit. We are to ask God to show us how He has gifted us in order to better use our spiritual gifts for His glory.

Yes, God calls some to be teachers and gives them the gift of teaching. God also calls some to be servants and blesses them with the gift of “helps”. However, specifically knowing our spiritual gift does not excuse us from serving God in areas outside our gifting.

Is it beneficial to know what spiritual gift(s) God has given us?   Of course it is. Is it wrong to focus so much on spiritual gifts that we miss other opportunities to serve God?   YES.

If we are dedicated to being used by God, He will equip us with the spiritual gifts we need.

A Biblical Spiritual Gifts List

There are three Biblical lists of the “gifts of the Spirit,” also known as spiritual gifts. The three main passages describing these spiritual gifts are Romans 12:6–8; 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; and 1 Corinthians 12:28.

The spiritual gifts identified in Romans 12 are:

prophesying, serving, teaching, encouraging, giving, leadership, and mercy.

The list in 1 Corinthians 12:4–11 includes:

the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, distinguishing between spirits, speaking in tongues and interpretation of tongues.

The list in 1 Corinthians 12:28 includes:

healings, helps, administration/governments, diversities of tongues.

I invite you to read through the list below prayerfully, asking God to show you if He has given you a particular gift or gifts.  Remember, spiritual gifts are not natural talents or abilities or something you like to do.  They are to help you serve God and glorify his holy name.

A brief description of each spiritual gift follows:

Prophecy – Is “a speaking forth” from divine inspiration and declaring the purposes of God, whether by reproving and admonishing the wicked, or comforting the afflicted, or revealing things hidden.  This includes foretelling future events. To prophesy is to declare the divine will, to interpret the purposes of God, & to make known in any way the truth of God that is designed to influence people.  This involves speaking by divine revelation God’s message with power and authority.

Serving – Also referred to as ministering. This is service of any kind.  i.e. the broad application of practical help to those in need. They are known for their faithfulness and loyalty.

Teaching – This gift involves the analysis and proclamation of the Word of God, explaining the meaning, context and application to the hearer’s life, specifically the doctrines of the faith.

Encouraging – Also called exhortation, this gift is evident in those who consistently call upon others to heed and follow God’s truth, which may involve correction or building others up by strengthening weak faith or comforting in trials.

Giving – Gifted givers are those who joyfully share what they have with others, whether it is financial, material, or the giving of personal time and attention. The giver is concerned for the needs of others and seeks opportunities to share goods, money and time with them as needs arise.

Leadership – The gifted leader is one who rules, presides over or has the management of other people in the church. The word literally means “guide” and carries with it the idea of one who steers a ship. One with the gift of leadership rules with wisdom and grace and exhibits the fruit of the Spirit in his life as he leads by example.

Mercy – Closely linked with the gift of encouragement, the gift of mercy is obvious in those who are compassionate toward others who are in distress, showing sympathy and sensitivity coupled with a desire and the resources to lessen their suffering in a kind and cheerful manner.

Word of wisdom – This is one of the speaking gifts and describes someone who can understand and speak forth biblical truth in such a way as to skilfully apply it to life situations with all discernment.

Word of knowledge – This is another speaking gift that involves understanding truth with an insight that only comes by revelation from God. Those with the gift of knowledge understand the deep things of God and the mysteries of His Word.

Faith – All believers possess faith in some measure because it is one of the gifts of the Spirit bestowed on all who come to Christ in faith (Galatians 5:22-23). The spiritual gift of faith is exhibited by one with a strong and unshakeable confidence in God, His Word, His promises, and the power of prayer to effect miracles.

Healing – God does still heal today so miraculous healings affirm that God is present for He is a God of life.

Miraculous powers – Also known as the working of miracles, this is a sign gift which involves performing supernatural events that could only be attributed to the power of God (Acts 2:22). This gift was exhibited by Paul (Acts 19:11-12), Peter (Acts 3:6), Stephen (Acts 6:8), and Phillip (Acts 8:6-7), among others.

Distinguishing (discerning) of spirits – This is the unique ability to determine the true message of God from that of the deceiver, Satan, whose methods include purveying deceptive and erroneous doctrine. Jesus said many would come in His name and would deceive many (Matthew 24:4-5), but the gift of discerning spirits is given to individuals and the Church to protect it from such as these.

Speaking in tongues – The gift of tongues is a “sign gift” and is the divine ability to speak in languages previously unknown to the speaker.  See interpretation of tongues below.

Sometimes speaking in tongues is for the benefit of those who only know another language who otherwise would not hear the Word of God being proclaimed.  (Note this is different from praying in tongues).

Interpretation of tongues – A person with the gift of interpreting tongues could understand what a tongues-speaker was saying even though he did not know the language that was being spoken. The tongues interpreter would then communicate the message of the tongues speaker to everyone else, so all could understand.

Helps – Closely related to the gift of mercy is the gift of helps. Those with the gift of helps are those who can aid or render assistance to others with compassion and grace. This has a broad range of possibilities for application. Most importantly, this is the unique ability to identify those who are struggling with doubt, fears, and other spiritual battles; to move toward those in spiritual need with a kind word, an understanding and compassionate demeanour; and to speak scriptural truth that is both convicting and loving.

Administration/governments – A gift that takes the form of being able to offer sound advice and judgement in directing church affairs.

Apostleship – The gift of fulfilling the ministry of the Word of God, and to be exercised among nonbelievers.  Paul went to the Gentiles; Peter went to the Jews.

When you identify your own gifts (and this list is far from complete) ask God how He wants you to use them to build up His family.  At the same time, realise your gifts can’t do the work of the church all alone.  So be thankful for people whose gifts are completely different from yours.  Let your strengths balance their weaknesses, and be grateful that their abilities make up for your deficiencies.  Together we can build Christ’s Church.

 

Jesus is Lord

Jesus is Lord

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash
Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

John 6: 35, 41-51

Imagine later today, being introduced to someone who said, “Hi, I am the bread that has come down from heaven.”

What would you say? Would you say excitedly, “Wow, wonderful, It’s great to meet you!”, or would you say in disbelief, “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Anyone making such claims could easily be labelled as needing psychiatric help.

C.S. Lewis, in his book “Mere Christianity,” considered that anyone who makes the claims that Jesus made must either be a liar, a lunatic, be of the devil, or in fact IS the Son of God.  Therefore we must either dismiss Jesus, or we HAVE to fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God!  Let’s examine this more closely.

Liar

The first century Jews came to the conclusion that Jesus was a liar.  Jesus used Capernaum for His base, so He is NOT an unknown in town.  They know him and his family and this is the point of contention with the leaders in the synagogue:

“You are the son of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth north of here.  How is it then that you say you are the bread which came down from heaven?”

You see Jesus is the 29-year-old boy of Joseph, born of flesh and blood, as the rest of us.  God did not drop him down from heaven like some Prophet of old sent back to judge God’s people.  The logical conclusion for a 1st century Jew is that Jesus is lying.  They would probably reach the same conclusion if Jesus were to explain His virgin birth.

Lunatic

The other view held by Jewish leaders was that Jesus was a lunatic.  But the leaders had to be careful here.  Jesus was immensely popular so instead they casually suggest that He is lying.  They hold the more serious charge of lunacy until such time as it is needed.  You can’t blame them for this, especially when you look at the outrageous claims Jesus makes in John chapter 6:  He claims:

  1. to have come down from heaven, v. 42.
  2. that people must come to him to get to the God the Father, v. 44.
  3. He will cause your resurrection, v. 44.
  4. He is the object of the prophet’s teachings, v. 45.
  5. He is from God, v. 46.
  6. He has seen the Father, v. 46.
  7. If you believe in Him you have eternal life, v. 47.
  8. He is the bread of life, v. 48.
  9. This bread is greater than Moses’ manna, v. 49-50.
  10. You will live forever with His bread, v. 50.
  11. This bread is His flesh given for the life of the world, v. 50

Surely the last claim alone is enough to convict him as an absolute lunatic!  You probably think, “How does this work?”

Of course today we understand this as a reference to the Cross, but here again Jesus cannot go into detail.  You simply won’t believe Him.  People failed to realise that Jesus was simply using bread as a metaphorBread, when we break it, sustains our bodies.  His body, when broken on the cross, sustains our souls.  In a word: we are forgiven, made whole, and therefore we shall live forever with God in right relationship.

 Legend

Perhaps you think Jesus is becoming a bit of a legend.  Today many say He never existed, although historians agree that He did exist.  Jesus is not a legendary figure.

However, legends often grow after an event, when things get exaggerated.  Take King Arthur – a hero of mine.  It is generally agreed that there was a man named Arthur in Britain who was a war hero some 1500 years ago.  That’s about all that can be said with any certainty.

Was he a king?  Probably not.  Was there a Round Table?  Perhaps.  But there is no evidence of the sword in the stone, Merlin the magician, or the Holy Grail.  These were all legends that developed around a great war hero.  Legends grew about Jesus, during and after His life on earth.  To stop these the Gospels were written from eyewitness accounts.

In John’s gospel we have the seven “I Am” sayings, where Jesus said of himself:

  • “I AM the Bread of Life”
  • “I AM the Light of the World”
  • “I AM the Door”
  • “I AM the Good Shepherd”
  • “I AM the Resurrection and the Life”
  • “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life”
  • “I AM the True Vine”

These sayings have ONE conclusion, that Jesus IS God.

So either Jesus said these things or they were made up to keep the legend going.  If it was all about keeping the legend going why were so many prepared to die for their faith?  Simply because His claim of deity is not the fictitious work of a writer.  We are left with this: the picture that is presented of Jesus IS a GENUINE accurate record of what happened.

 Jesus is Lord

Jesus is not a liar, lunatic, or legend.  He is Lord.

If you call him a liar let me ask you, what teachings, exactly, are lies?

If you call him a lunatic let me ask you, In what way is he insane?  Could someone so insightful about the human condition be so insane at the same time?  In Jesus we find the world’s most acute AND critical thinking when challenged by his adversaries.  This is not the mark of a deranged mind.

If you call him a legend let me ask you: How do you know he is a legend?

Were you with Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon?  – probably not.  We know he walked on the moon because someone told us, and SOMEONE told me that Jesus lived!  There were eyewitnesses who touched him, saw him, and heard him.   Are His teachings and life story the work of disciples who wanted to make him MORE than he really was?  If so then why did they devote their lives to a literary ghost?

No. He is not a liar, a lunatic, or a legend.  He is LORD!

Amen.


 

The way… the truth… the life

John quotes Jesus as saying “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6).

This passage is GOOD NEWS! It contrasts with all Photo by Fernando Puente on Unsplashthe bad news and fake news we experience through the media. These words express a basic and important message that the way to eternal life, though unseen, is secure.

Jesus is the way because He is both God and man, (John 10:30).

Jesus is the truth because He is the reality and proof of all God’s promises.

Jesus is the life, meaning that He joins His divine life to ours, both now and eternally, because He is our Saviour

By dying for us on the cross He has saved us from death and sin. He truly is our Saviour!

However there is a catch. Just before saying these words, Jesus also said “…believe in God; believe also in me.” The message is clear. We can look forward to eternal life because Jesus has promised it, …to all who believe in him.

How is your belief in Jesus, your belief that He is God’s son and that He is the only way to God and eternal life? Can your belief be shaken by trials and tribulations, or is it rock-solid?

The Holy Spirit

Yet, believing in Jesus is just the start. We must respond to Jesus. We respond by allowing the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, for it is He who brings Jesus alive in us and in in turn provides us with direct access to God. 

As His disciples, working in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to carry the gospel of God’s Kingdom out into our own daily lives, and so out into the world. (John 14:12-13).

The Holy Spirit regenerates us to live as God desires and helps us to build Christ’s church on earth. The very presence of God lives within us. Isn’t that truly amazing? God lives in us!

Are you ready to believe and trust in Jesus, and to receive God’s Holy Spirit? If so, please offer the following prayer to God:

Thank you God for sending you Son Jesus as Saviour to the world.
I now come to Jesus as my Saviour,
asking Him to forgive me for all the wrong things I have thought, said and done in my life
and so I choose to turn away from everything that I know is wrong.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the only way to you:
     help me to follow Him.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the truth:
bring me to know your truth.
I acknowledge that Jesus is the life:
     give me that life,
Please come and fill me with Your Holy Spirit
and make it possible for me to walk by faith with You,
my Lord and my God.
Amen.